LAHORE: In a key development in thawing ties with Washington, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will visit the US in coming days, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Well-placed sources said that Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt-General Zaheerul Islam’s visit has been approved by the government. It will be the first visit by the army chief or an intelligence chief to the US in over a year.
The ISI chief will meet his US counterpart, Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus, and other senior American officials to discuss matters related to counter-terrorism cooperation. Lt-Gen Islam will also focus on unilateral drone attacks by the US, sources further stated. It is likely that emphasis on provision of strategic and technical intelligence input obtained through drones will be sought, so that Pakistan can take action against terrorists.
The spymaster’s travel to the US will be the first by a high-ranking military officer since the unilateral raid by US special forces into Pakistan to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.
Ties thereinafter had quickly plummeted. There was the Salala incident in November 2011, in which US-led Nato forces attacked a Pakistani border post. Twenty-five soldiers were killed in the attack, which resulted in the closing of Nato supply routes through Pakistan for seven months and the plummeting of Pak-US ties to their lowest levels since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.
The sentencing of Dr Shakil Afridi, the man who helped the US locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, in Pakistan also became a divisive issue. The US reacted strongly to the sentencing of Dr Afridi a few weeks ago for running a fake polio vaccination drive, which was really meant to hunt down Bin Laden. Genuine and critical polio vaccination drives have suffered a number of setbacks in Pakistan since the sting operation – with many high-risk areas becoming off limits for vaccinators.
The incumbent DG ISI had also postponed his scheduled visit to the US in May, citing “pressing commitments.” At that time, the US and Pakistan were still deadlocked on a number of issues – particularly the reopening of Nato supply routes. The supply routes finally reopened on July 4, 2012, after some US officials expressed regret over the loss of Pakistani soldiers’ lives.
Now that the supply routes have been reopened, and ties seem to have resumed, a number of other outstanding issues will require discussion – most of all renewing understandings on cooperating against terrorism.
According to sources, the ISI chief will discuss the possibility of the transfer of drone technology and capacity building of Pakistani forces. They also held that he will reject any ‘wink-and-nod’ offers from the US in terms of drone strikes and US boots on the ground. The ISI chief will focus on a new mechanism to ensure Pakistan’s input on drone strikes.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.